The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Afea­tures draw­ings of women by French artists such as Edouard Manet, Pier­reAu­guste Renoir and Henri de ToulouseLautrec, as well as artists from abroad such as Theo Van Rys­sel­berghe, Marie Cas­satt and Emile Barthelemy Fabry, who worked in France in the pe­riod un­der re­view.

‘‘ Paris was at that time the most im­port- N Aus­tralian ex­clu­sive for the Queens­land Art Gallery, Mod­ern Woman: Daugh­ters and Lovers 1850-1918: Draw­ings from the Musee d’or­say, Paris ant place in the world,’’ cu­ra­tor Is­abelle Ju­lia says. Artists were aban­don­ing the idea of the fe­male as a god­dess and in­stead show­ing women in ev­ery­day con­texts.

‘‘ All kinds of women are shown in the ex­hi­bi­tion: the great­est and the poor­est, ur­ban women and peas­ant women, women at work, women at leisure. There is ev­ery kind of woman.’’

But per­haps the most mod­ern women were Cas­satt, Berthe Morisot, Marie Bashkirt­seff, Marie Brac­que­mond, Louise Bres­lau and Eva Gon­za­lez, the fe­male artists who are rep­re­sented in this mostly male show (there are 46 men to six women).

QAG cu­ra­tor Julie Ewing­ton is aware of the reser­va­tions some peo­ple will have about her all-fe­male show, Con­tem­po­rary Australia: Women. ‘‘ A lot of peo­ple will say that it’s not nec­es­sary,’’ she says. ‘‘ I don’t know if it’s nec­es­sary but it’s been a hell of a lot of fun to do and it’s been ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­ter­est­ing.’’

Ewing­ton gave 56 artists and col­lec­tives an open-ended brief to make work about what­ever they wanted. Among them are all the artists in­ter­viewed here, as well as Fiona Hall, Jen­nifer Mills and per­for­mance col­lec­tive Brown Coun­cil. ‘‘ Peo­ple are say­ing: women are artists, they are com­pletely on the agenda. What are they do­ing now?’’ Ewing­ton says. ‘‘ It’s no longer the time where they were ar­gu­ing about why are there no great women artists.’’

But it doesn’t mean the jour­ney is over. ‘‘ Some of the younger artists are say­ing, ac­tu­ally there are some is­sues.’’

Ewing­ton wanted a mix of es­tab­lished, emerg­ing, indige­nous and non-indige­nous artists across a va­ri­ety of medi­ums. ‘‘ What is the show about? It’s about cel­e­bra­tion and ex­plo­ration. It’s not about com­plaint, it’s about what is be­ing achieved.’’

JUDY WAT­SON, 52, Bris­bane IN con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist art his­tory, women talk about how the male gaze views the woman as sub­ject, as sub­dued and ob­jec­ti­fied. But all of a sud­den she starts to re­turn the gaze and she’s ac­tu­ally look­ing back at the viewer. Now it’s more of a know­ing gaze be­cause of fem­i­nism, en­light­en­ment, gen­der equal­ity and the rights of men and women in re­la­tion to each other. There is a lot more known — not just sub­jec­tively but also so­cially — across his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tives.

[In Mod­ern Woman], Giovanni Bol­dini’s Nude Woman in Black Stock­ings Ly­ing on a Sofa shows a woman who is al­most pre­sent­ing her­self as she is ready for a sex­ual li­ai­son. She’s al­most be­ing laid out on the chaise longue as open and, I guess, ready. It’s a great draw­ing but she doesn’t look en­tirely com­fort­able. I think that’s quite an in­ter­est­ing draw­ing be­cause it’s ac­tu­ally cap­tured some­thing of her state of mind as well as be­ing a fig­ure draw­ing.

I am also in­ter­ested in see­ing the draw­ing of the fe­male torso by Charles Mau­rin called Woman Tak­ing off Her Slip, and Study of a Mytho­log­i­cal Male Fig­ure Seen from Be­hind. It looks like quite a beau­ti­ful still life of a woman who looks like she’s given birth. She’s got life writ­ten into her stom­ach.

As an artist I’ve been in­ter­ested in that idea of how the in­ner and outer ap­pear­ance of a woman’s body con­tains a pas­sage of life and his­tory, which has been em­braced by it and passed through it.

For Con­tem­po­rary Australia: Women I’m look­ing at my mother’s side of the fam­ily, the Abo­rig­i­nal side. My great-great-grand­mother Rosie es­caped from a mas­sacre on Lawn Hill Sta­tion, in north­west Queens­land, in Waanyi coun­try. She and an­other young girl were hid­ing be­hind the wind­break. Rosie got stabbed in the shoul­der by a bay­o­net but she ac­tu­ally sur­vived. Then she and the young girl went and hid from the po­lice.

They weighted them­selves down with stones in the water of a creek and used straws, which would have been from a reed or some­thing or like that, to breathe. It’s a re­mark­able story of sur­vival, but there are other sto­ries of sur­vival in the fam­ily too. I’m mak­ing a wind­break, al­lu­sion to the es­cape.

I think there is a point [in hav­ing an allfe­male ex­hi­bi­tion such as Con­tem­po­rary Australia: Women]. In the early days of fem­i­nism I guess the point was try­ing to re­verse the trend of stop­ping women from show­ing in ex­hi­bi­tions. Even when you look




an at a lot of the work that was col­lected and the artists who be­came fa­mous in ear­lier times, women were the mi­nor­ity. In art schools now I think you will of­ten get a ma­jor­ity of women. When I first went to art school, in the late 1970s, there weren’t very many women who were lec­tur­ers. But now I see in art schools across the coun­try women are equal, cer­tainly in lec­tur­ing roles.

As a fe­male artist, I don’t pre­tend to be any­thing other than what I am. I don’t per­son­ally feel like I have to prove my­self. Who am I prov­ing it to, ex­cept my peers? BINDI COLE, 37, Melbourne ISN’T it funny? I won­der if men are asked what it’s like to be male artists? I al­ways get asked ei­ther what it’s like to be an Abo­rig­i­nal artist or what it’s like to be a fe­male artist. I’d just like to be an artist at times and not be de­fined by these la­bels. I re­mem­ber when some­one found out I was in [this ex­hi­bi­tion] and they con­grat­u­lated me on be­ing part of the ‘‘ fem­i­nist show’’. Isn’t that in­ter­est­ing? Just be­cause it’s all fe­male it must be a fem­i­nist show . . . There was no brief to make art to do with be­ing a woman at all.

As an artist, my art is al­ways go­ing to be a re­flec­tion of the things that are go­ing for me at the time. The work [I made for Con­tem­po­rary Australia: Women] is called I For­give You and it’s a wall in­stal­la­tion text piece that spells ‘‘ I for­give you’’ and it’s made of about 10,000 emu feathers, which I hand-stuck one by one.

Grow­ing up for me was pretty trau­matic. I had a rough up­bring­ing where I lived with a mother who was a beau­ti­ful woman who loved me very much, but at the same time was a heroin ad­dict and a stripper. And so that kind of meant I had a very ne­glected child­hood and was abused at times. When I was 16 my mum died and I have kind of been alone since then. I found my­self into my late teens, early 20s, with a lot of re­ally de­struc­tive, dys­func­tional be­hav­iours, ad­dic­tions and what-not. I had to come to a place in my life, which I did around my mid-20s, where I had to have some heal­ing oc­cur . . . When those things hap­pen in your life you are dis­em­pow­ered, but when you can for­give you are re-em­pow­ered.

I thought, if this worked for me, I won­der if it could work for com­mu­nity? I look around at com­mu­nity — par­tic­u­larly the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity — and there’s a lot of un­re­solved trauma. I re­ally do think that if there was go­ing to be some kind of heal­ing across com­mu­nity, I have a feel­ing it would come from the women in that com­mu­nity.

I had a look through the cat­a­logue [of Mod­ern Woman] and I par­tic­u­larly no­ticed that all the women were white. There’s no rep­re­sen­ta­tion of eth­nic­ity what­so­ever. I don’t think I saw one woman who was eth­nic in any way. There must have been a mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety at that time.

I don’t un­der­stand why the art world is so male-dom­i­nated. I just don’t get it to be hon­est . . . In 80 years, seven women have won the Archibald Prize. It’s not like any­thing has ever re­ally changed be­tween

Far left, Giovanni Bol­dini’s Woman with Fan Seated in a Theatre Box: The Count­ess of Rasti (c1878); left, Kirsty Bruce’s Un­ti­tled (2011)

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